Prevent Cancer: Phase Out Toxics in Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

CHICAGO, IL, July 2009: The Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC), and other concerned scientists and consumer advocates, are calling on the federal government to require a phase out of carcinogenic and other toxic ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products.

As the Obama Administration works with Congress to pass comprehensive health care reform legislation this year, the CPC notes that President Barack Obama told reporters at the July 10 Group of 8 news conference, "We have to bend the cost curve on health care, and there are some very specific ways of doing that - game changers that incentivize quality as opposed to quantity, that emphasize prevention."

Most cosmetics and personal care products on store shelves today contain five major categories of toxic ingredients, warns the CPC. These toxics are: frank carcinogens; precursors of or "hidden" carcinogens; endocrine or hormonally disruptive; penetration enhancers; and allergens.

Tables listing these five categories of toxic ingredients are available on the CPC website at

There are only a few exceptions to products containing these toxic ingredients, notably those that are certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The tables, compiled by Dr. Samuel Epstein and Randy Fitzgerald, are published in their new book, "Toxic Beauty: How Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Endanger Your Health ... And What You Can do About It."

"Our skin is highly permeable," cautions Dr. Epstein in "Toxic Beauty." Less than one-tenth of an inch thick, skin is a porous membrane that is highly sensitive to toxic chemicals. What we put on our skin affects our health just as much, if not more, than what we put in our mouths."

Some toxic ingredients "illegally remain unlabeled," warns Dr. Epstein. "Of particular concern are hormonal phthalates, and synthetic "aroma boosters" which strongly intensify organic fragrances."

Expressing concerns on carcinogenic products, U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, in 1997 Senate Hearings on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Reform Bill, warned that, "The cosmetics industry has borrowed a page from the play book of the tobacco industry by putting profits ahead of public health."

This is a major understatement, warns Dr. Epstein, who points out that tobacco products are labeled with explicit warnings on cancer risks, which relate only to late adolescents and adults.

In striking contrast, there are no warnings whatsoever on cosmetics and personal care products, yet their ingredients pose unrecognized lifelong dangers to the entire U.S. population, including the fetus, following maternal use and absorption through the skin into maternal and fetal blood.

The cosmetics and personal care product industry, other than relatively small U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic companies, can no longer claim ignorance of the wide range of toxic, and even life threatening, ingredients in products manufactured and sold by multi-billion-dollar companies, including those that engage in multilevel marketing.

The FDA is responsible for the regulation of cosmetics and personal care products in the United States. The legislative framework for regulating these products, whether manufactured in the U.S. or imported, is based on the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FFDC) Act, and its amendments.

FDA Regulations stipulate: "Each ingredient used in a cosmetic product and each finished cosmetic product shall be adequately substantiated for safety prior to marketing. Any such ingredient or product whose safety is not adequately substantiated prior to marketing is misbranded unless it contains the following conspicuous statement on the principal display panel: ‘Warning: The safety of this product has not been determined.’" This is commonly known as a "Black Box" warning. The Cancer Prevention Coalition further recommends that financial penalties should be imposed on all companies marketing products containing toxic ingredients until they are completely phased out.

Nevertheless, the FDA has rarely exercised its explicit authority over the last seven decades, no matter how dangerous the product and its ingredients.

The minimal exceptions in the decade following the 1938 Act are just the following few ingredients:

  • Zirconium – containing complexes in aerosol products, as they can induce granulomas in the lung.
  • Hexachlorophene – because of its neurotoxicity; however, this ingredient may still be used in the absence of "an alternative (effective) preservative."
  • Mercury compounds – because of their neurotoxicity.
  • Chlorofluorocarbon propellants – although they may still be exported.
  • Dithionol – as it can cause photosensitivity.
  • Halogenated salicylanilides – as they can induce photosensitivity.
  • Chloroform – "because of its animal carcinogenicity and likely hazard to human health."
  • Vinyl chloride – as an ingredient in aerosol products, "because of its carcinogenic effects on humans and animals."
  • Methylene chloride – "because of its animal carcinogenicity and likely hazard to human health."
The Cancer Prevention Coalition emphasizes that the time to require the cosmetics and personal care products industry to phase out carcinogenic and other toxic ingredients is well overdue.

The Cancer Prevention Coalition (CPC), which opened its national office in Chicago in July 1994, is a nationwide coalition of leading independent experts in cancer prevention and public health, together with citizen activists and representatives of public interest and environmental, and women's health groups.

Since passage of the 1971 National Cancer Act, the overall incidence of cancer in the U.S. has escalated to epidemic proportions, now striking 1.3 million people each year, and killing about 550,000.

Our goal is to reduce escalating cancer rates through a comprehensive strategy of outreach, public education, advocacy, and public policy initiatives to establish prevention as the nation's foremost cancer policy.